The first half of the season has not gone well for the Detroit Red Wings‘ defense. Injuries have sidelined some players, while others have continued to underperform. Now, as the team gets ready for the 2014 Winter Classic, they have learned that they will be without Jonathan Ericsson for 4-6 weeks as he deals with a rib injury. While the Red Wings were able to survive an injury to rookie Danny DeKeyser earlier this season, losing their No. 2 blueliner will present even more of a challenge. Only Niklas Kronwall plays more minutes per game than Ericsson, and the pair are tied for the best plus/minus rating on defense (plus-9).
Ericsson has a goal and eight points this season, and has played well in his own zone. He plays big minutes, is capable of laying big hits and can be trusted in nearly any situation. Jakub Kindl will likely return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch recently, but questions remain about how well Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith and others can play under pressure. Quincey has the worst rating on the team at minus-13, including a minus-3 first period in a loss to the New York Islanders on Dec. 23. Kindl’s minus-10 rating isn’t much better, and DeKeyser has been slightly disappointing in the two games since his return. Smith’s play has improved over the past few weeks, and it’s also possible that AHL prospects Adam Almquist or Xavier Ouellet could see another call-up.
The Red Wings have a minus-9 goal differential on the season, and as they continue to struggle to score goals they need help from their defense and goaltenders to keep pucks out of the net on the other end. Ericsson’s loss will be felt in a big way, and unfortunately almost guarantees that the seventh-year pro will miss out on representing Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.